Book name: Hero in the Shadows
Author: David Gemmell
Publisher: Bantam/Del Rey
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Publication Date: 2000
Star Rating: 5/5
No one creates fantasy heroes you love like David Gemmell, and one of his most cherished heroes is Waylander.
Featuring in multiple David Gemmell fantasy novels, Waylander is a dark character also known as Dakeyras and the Grey Man.
Becoming an assassin after the violent death of his family at the hands of raiders, Waylander is present at several key moments in history within David Gemmell’s Drenai universe.
Hero in the Shadows sees Waylander living peacefully as the Gentleman or the Grey Man. He has built a palace and faithfully serves his local community as landlord and provider of medical services at the infirmary within his home.
Peace is not destined to last forever. As Waylander returns home from rescuing Keeva from abduction by raiders who killed her family and destroyed her village, he finds that the nearby ruins of Kuan-Hador are housing a deadly mist.
Ustarte, a priestess who is a Joining (a combination of person and animal) is visiting Waylander’s palace. She will play an integral part as Waylander’s destiny unfolds.
Keeva is set to work in the household and offered the chance to train as an assassin.
Waylander is also anticipating a visit from an old contact, the immensely rich Matze Chai. The exacting guest brings with him Kysumu, a Rajnee swordsman who is part of his bodyguard.
Along their journey to see Waylander, Matze Chai and Kysumu are joined by Yu Yu Liang. The latter is ostensibly a ditch digger turned bandit, but he has visions and can fight as well as Kysumu without the years of training. His real identity is a mystery.
The lethal mist let loose from Kuan-Hador contains demons. The lost city has a dark history and, as a portal to the other world opens, the demons spill out and threaten Waylander and everyone in his palace.
Within the realm of men, Aric is determined to usurp the dukedom of Kydor and is prepared to murder the current duke, his wife and son to achieve it.
Making a bargain with the demons to kill the duke (whose father was Niallad, Drenai king) and his family is something that Aric has no trouble with. The scene is set for an assassination, wiping out their bloodline.
Waylander is haunted by his past. He killed Niallad and feels compelled to right that wrong by protecting the dead king’s grandson now.
The journey of Keeva, Waylander, Yu Yu Liang and Kysumu to a single place was carefully achieved. Each had a very different reason to be at Waylander’s home when the rise of the demons began.
Together, this unlikely group must face down the demons that pour forth from Kuan-Hador. I loved that plenty of space was given to develop all four characters as individuals.
Waylander’s sadness is always incredibly moving, and the effect that the loss of his wife and children had on him is brought out in every novel he appears in.
Hero in the Shadows was about Waylander being at peace at last. The story gave him the opportunity to finally counter the long-running injustice of his assassination of the Drenai king.
There was plenty of action in Hero in the Shadows. The group must face demon enemies as well as a ruthless man who will readily use demonic power to bring down the duke and replace him.
It felt like the narrative kept moving forward crisply to the resolution of these two aspects.
As is often the case with David Gemmell’s fantasy fiction, past sins were still causing chaos and bloodletting in the present time of the story.
Waylander has spent decades trying to free himself of his past only to remain tormented by it. This made the emotional tone quite painful. He is a hero who has suffered and lost, but whose own actions have often caused pain and suffering to thousands.
I really enjoyed Hero in the Shadows, and I’m a fan of David Gemmell, so I would highly recommend this epic fantasy novel.
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If you’ve enjoyed this review, you might be interested reading in my article about how old sins cast long shadows in the fantasy fiction of David Gemmell.
Or you might like to take a look at my review of magician by Raymond E Feist.
If you fancy something different, you might like to take a chance on my review of Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.